More than 1 million students enter four-year colleges each year, and some who choose to drink irresponsibly affect not only themselves, but other students, the academic environment and the surrounding community as well.
In a recent study done by Harvard it was found that the percentage of students who were binge drinkers was nearly uniform from freshman to senior year, even though the legal drinking age is 21. Obviously some on-campus regulation is necessary, but history has proven that prohibition and restriction of alcohol only creates a stronger rebellious force.
Vice President of Student Affairs Theresa Powell has organized an Alcohol Task Force of faculty and student leaders who are putting together a series of recommendations for a more secure, substance-free campus.
Still in committee discussion, some of these recommendations include a provision of orientations on alcohol for first-year students, substance abuse speakers, a wider range of recreational activities, a formal ban of all alcohol advertisements or endorsements on campus property and mandatory anti-alcohol seminars for Greek life and athletic programs.
But the most controversial recommendation under consideration is a mandate for alcohol-free residence halls, designed primarily for the protection of freshmen.
“I think it sends out a confusing message on campus to have underage undergraduates living in a condition where their RAs are permitted to have alcohol,” Dean of Students Ainsley Carry said.
The Alcohol Task Force is trying to remove any potentially confusing messages by preventing any presence of alcohol in dorms or the accessibility to minors that could result from this.
Only 2 to 3 percent of all student residents are of legal age, and the impact of this restrictive measure, if enacted, will likely only succeed in infringing upon a responsible adult’s legal privileges.
Most underage college students obtain alcohol by using fake IDs, through an acquaintance or friend off-campus, or from an unenforced commercial source like a bar or a grocery store.
Additionally, most students participate in heavy drinking outside their university’s jurisdiction, complicating matters even more.
Since 1989, the passage of the Federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act specifies, “as a condition of receiving funds … an institution of higher education must certify that it has adopted and implemented a drug and alcohol prevention program.” The critical problem with this law is that it mandates a formal drug and alcohol policy for the school without establishing standards of content across city or state lines.
Even if the recommendation for alcohol-free residence halls is received and approved by President David Adamany in June, colleges in the Philadelphia area will still have policies not covered by Temple’s rules.
“It’s always much less of a risk to drink at another college rather than your own,” one freshman told me. “If we get caught, usually the college’s policies only apply to their students.”
The absence of universal standards governing the content of school alcohol policies and the jurisdictional conflicts involved seriously contribute to the inefficiency of campus enforcement. What would be more practical is a coordinated committee of local universities establishing stronger sanctions and penalties for policy infractions across the board.
It is also relevant to look at the social construction of alcohol abuse in trying to formulate its remedy. Anthropologists have discovered that alcohol’s behavioral effects are shaped by culture.
A recent article featured on reportermag.com claims that in Europe “alcohol abuse is only a fraction of what it is here in the United States” and this is because their culture has accommodated the presence of alcohol, encouraging temperance over abstinence.
In a country like America where deeply religious roots and a history of prohibition dictate our attitude toward drinking, alcohol becomes an attractive taboo.
During the 1920s, people hid liquor in hip flasks, false books, hollow canes and anything else they could find. Following this historical pattern, an alcohol-free residence policy may just inspire creativity in its transportation.
Despite increases in preventive measures, alcohol related problems continue to plague campuses.
Restrictive alcohol policies are all too prevalent, but recovery oriented policies are present at fewer than 30 percent of schools, according to a Harvard study of 119 colleges.
Like every other complicated issue, America delegates, compartmentalizes and disconnects the problem so far from its root that it is impossible to effectively cure the sickness. As long as alcohol is condemned as bad, it will taste all the more sweet for those to whom it’s forbidden.
Erin Cusack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.